Introduction: Mental health problems are a major factor in student absenteeism, lack of school engagement, and school dropout (Esch, et al., 2014). More tragically, untreated mental illness can lead to suicide; 7.4% of U.S. teens attempted suicide in the last year (CDC, 2018). Navigating and accessing community mental health services can be difficult for adolescents and their families. The Imagine Thriving Student Wellness Facilitator (SWF) program was implemented to bridge this gap. A SWF assesses referred students’ mental health and connects them with community mental health care providers. The program holds therapy appointments open for quick access and provides free transportation from school to appointments as needed. This study assessed the impact of the SWF program on student well-being.
Methods: Participants were 91 students in grades 6-12 from two schools in the upper Midwest. 50 students from one school were referred by school personnel and participated in the SWF program, and 41 were recruited from the no-intervention control school. All students completed online surveys upon starting the program and at the end of the school year. The BASC-2 SRP (Reynolds & Kamphaus, 2004) was utilized to measure student anxiety, depression, social stress, attitude toward school, and self-esteem. Positive and negative affect were measured using a shortened version of the PANAS-C (Ebesutani et al., 2012). Suicidal actions and thoughts were measured with questions from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS; CDC, 2018). Two focus groups were conducted in the spring of the evaluation year. One consisted of 10 school personnel and the other, 9 student participants.
Results: Results from repeated measures ANOVAs showed significant group by time interaction effects, favoring the program, on depression, social stress, self-esteem, and negative affect. No differences were found on anxiety, attitude toward school, and positive affect. Focus group discussion among school counselors and administrators brought out several themes, including that the SWF provides a needed service and works well together as a team with them to meet each student’s unique needs. In the student focus group, participants reported feeling safe and supported and achieving more personal growth and academic improvement.
Conclusions: Results of this study indicate that the SWF program had a positive impact on student well-being. The inclusion of a SWF in the school setting may be a key element bridging the gap between school and community systems of care.